Shop Safety: This Tip Could Save Your Life

… or “I never said I wanted to go surfing.”

Every so often something reminds you that serious injury is only a heartbeat away.

I had one of those experiences yesterday in the shop. The culprit: a scrap of plywood — well, that and a moment’s inattention as I walked across the floor after answering a phone call.

I’d been using the plywood scrap, an offcut of the prefinished maple I use for kitchen cabinet carcases, as a spacer to hold drawer slides at the requisite height while I screwed them in place. I had my camera and tripod set up nearby, to document the process for the book about kitchens that I’m working on for Lost Art Press. After installing the slides, I took the spacer out of the cabinet and set it on the floor without another thought.


The offending piece of scrap (here with finished side up), with Joey for scale.

As I crossed the floor to return to work I inadvertently stepped on the piece of plywood, which happened to be lying with the finished side down. I might as well have stepped onto a sheet of ice. It was one of those slow-motion moments as my mind assessed the likely result: “My head is probably going to hit this concrete floor.” Fortunately, while my mind was analyzing the situation my body was taking action. I felt my torso jerk up and around,  saving me from the fall.

But ouch: a sharp stab from left hip to right shoulder. No concussion, thankfully, but hello, my old friend Muscle Spasm. It’s off to the chiropractor Monday morning.

Lesson learned: Never leave prefinished plywood on the floor, especially with the shiny side down.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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30 Responses to Shop Safety: This Tip Could Save Your Life

  1. obewank says:

    md, orothopod surgeo better choice…good luck….ibuprofein in the mean time

  2. SSteve says:

    Be careful with that head. We like the brain that’s in it. Don’t make us make you start wearing a shop helmet.

  3. Glad you’re OK. I don’t remember who told me that “a clean shop is a safe shop”, but it’s a struggle to put it into action every day if you have messy tendencies like me.

  4. G;ad you are OK – but the picture of Joey reminded me of my (now passed) half Aussie Cattle Dog, half Aussie Shepherd, Foster. Smartest dog I ever owned. He knew what I was going to do before I did. A raise of my eyebrows and the game was on. Give Joey a tussle for me.

    • nrhiller says:

      Yes, they are lovely dogs. Joey arrived out of the blue at the age of about four months. No one claimed him when we reported him found, so we kept him. Smart and very neurotic. Bossy. Demanding. All traits of herders. My husband and I (along with his pink squeaky ball) are his herd. Maybe you should adopt another?

  5. tpobrienjr says:

    Glad you’re safe – except for sore spots.

  6. I used to have a bad neck and back. I went to the chiropractor three times a week sometimes. Then I bought one of those inversion table things that you lay on and it flips you upside-down so you hang by you ankles. Changed my life. Whenever I feel like I need it, I hang for about a minute. Headaches are gone. Back aches are gone. No more bills or neck snapping.

    You should try it. After all, what could go wrong with medical advise you read on an internet comments thread?

    • toolnut says:

      I got stuck upside down once.

        • toolnut says:

          Short version: It was my brothers machine and I had mention I was having back issues. He suggested I try it. When I had hung for a while and deemed I’d had enough, Having never done it before I had a little trouble righting myself. Then my brother started laughing because of it. Then I started laughing because he was laughing and I was stuck, inverted, until I could stop laughing. Then when it looked like I’d be successful, he’d get me laughing again. (On purpose of course.) Haven’t gone near it since.

          So when the question “What could go wrong…?” , was posed by Stumpy, I chimed in.

          The long version of the story has lots of arm movements, facial expressions and general silliness to go with the above info.

    • nrhiller says:

      Yes, I know others in the building trades who have used inversion of various types, to great effect. In my case there are vestigial effects of a 25-year-old injury, plus scoliosis, involved. The injury happened while I was at the bottom end of an insanely heavy hard maple armoire, maneuvering it up a client’s staircase while the client stood at the bottom, urging us to watch the wallpaper. The only way to ensure that we kept her wallpaper from being damaged was for me to bend my neck and carry the weight on my left shoulder. Bad idea. When we got to the second floor, she was thrilled and said we were far more careful than professional movers. Yay. (???) The full extent of the injury did not kick in for a couple of weeks. I go to a chiropractor on an as-needed basis to deal with fallout from that original injury. She is brilliant; zooms right in on the problem and fixes me up straightaway.

  7. Josh Graham says:

    I know a guy who throws his off falls right on the ground when running the table saw. He almost lost his hand or worse one day when he tripped over those scraps when going to rip another piece. Barley caught himself on the edge, but he is one of those guys who are always in a rush.

  8. lclement4 says:

    Oh no! Get better soon.

  9. David Ryle says:

    Been there, done that. Didn’t like it, and I don’t bounce like I used to.

  10. Bugger.
    That’s a pain in the proverbial.
    Take it easy. Glad it wasn’t worse.

  11. Allen says:

    This pretty much happens to me every day.

  12. says:

    1/4″ Pre-fin ply and a little leverage works great for moving 1,500# vintage machinery across wood floors….

  13. Anthony says:

    I’m glad the force was with you and prevented a disaster. I go to a GOOD chiropractor on a regular basis. It really helps me. Good luck on Monday.

  14. Mike Wallace says:

    This Woodworking RN is glad your injuries were not more serious. I worked in ICU TRAUMA for over 3 decades. I have lots of workshop stories. Love everything you do.

  15. jonfiant says:

    Nancy, I know very well what you’re talking about. I use prefinished maple plywood for my cabinet boxes too, and you’re right, that stuff is real slippery if you step on it. I try to always keep that stuff off the floor. Glad you are doing good! All the best this 2018!

  16. tsstahl says:

    The real take-away here is that you should switch to particle board. Nyuck-nyuck-nyuck. 🙂

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